It was love at first ride. A little white pony at the Dixon Mayfair turned my then 18-month-old daughter into a full-fledged horse fiend. From that moment on, her toy chest began to fill with plastic ponies. A horse-themed birthday party stole her heart. And there wasn’t a time we could walk past a pony ride without giving her a few minutes in the saddle. My little horse lover wanted more, but all the ranches I had come across always had the same minimum age requirement: seven years old.
Then one day, while researching some outdoor activities for our stay at Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North, it was if the angels started singing and directed the lights from heaven down at my computer to reveal the adventure she had been waiting for—horseback riding at MacDonald’s Ranch.
In north Scottsdale just 15 minutes from the resort, the ranch’s 1,300 acres of level Sonoran desert landscape are ideal for first-time riders. The ranch prides itself on its gentle horses and enthusiastic guides, which help make any rider’s experience out on the trail an enjoyable one. The youngest riders, five year olds, do ride their own horses, but are led via rope by experienced employees on horseback. Although the horses know the trail so well they could probably walk ‘em blindfolded and never stray, the rope helps children (and parents) feel comfortable.
My daughter fell in love with Sheik, her handsome white steed with a sweet disposition, and was incredibly charmed by Cowboy Mikey, the “silly” cowboy who kept her entertained the entire ride. In between laughs, Mikey pointed out a red-tailed hawk perched on top of a tree, bones left behind from the ranch’s cattle days and a Saguaro cactus shaped like Vanna White (the similarities were uncanny!).
After the one-hour ride, we took time to visit the animals in the petting zoo, run in the hay bale maze and take our turn at some of the ranch games. My son was drawn to the lassos. After seeing our unsuccessful attempts at trying to rope a mounted steer, a friendly ranch hand was happy to spend several minutes teaching him the tricks of the trade. Eventually, my boy not only roped the steer, but Daddy as well!
During our time at Four Seasons Scottsdale, we wanted to take advantage of the pleasant weather and dramatic desert setting, so decided to go for a hike. The rocky mountain that dominates the poolside views at the resort is Pinnacle Peak: 3,171 feet in elevation. The 150-acre park surrounding the peak is a great place for families to get outside and hike or rock climb. While there is a ¾-mile trail connecting the resort to Pinnacle Peak Park, my family opted to hop in the car and park closer to the main trailhead so that the kids would have more energy for the climb up the peak.
The trail is popular with a wide variety of users, including serious trail runners and families with children enjoying some outdoor time together. Views are impressive, as the 1.75-mile trail climbs to a maximum elevation of 2,889 feet, and include panoramas of the Four Seasons resort and Troon North Golf Club. My kids delighted in spotting lizards sunning themselves on rocks and a cottontail sneaking out for a midday snack. After the hike, we headed back to the pool and soaked up the satisfaction of watching our children splash about—with the peak we had just climbed looming in the background.
Sharlene Earnshaw is Editor in Chief of Trekaroo, a family travel review website dedicated to helping families travel better with kids. She is based in Orange County, California. Sharlene travels frequently with her five-year-old twins, who have inherited her wicked case of wanderlust. She loves national parks, luxury resorts and sharing her experiences with whoever will listen.
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